By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
— The U.S. 31 Coalition which has been striving to make U.S. 31 a limited access highway from Indianapolis to South Bend are encouraged that Gov. Mike Pence is making it one of the priorities for future funding.
Portions of the work are scheduled to be completed around Kokomo this year, near South Bend in 2014 and through Hamilton County by the end of 2015.
That leaves the stretch of U.S. 31 from the Hamilton County line through Tipton to Kokomo and from Kokomo north through Miami County to South Bend to be completed.
Dennis Faulkenberg, director of the U.S. 31 Coalition, said the group is encouraged by the fact that Pence has declared finishing U.S. 31 a priority.
Pence has named the U.S. 31 corridor, the Ohio River bridge and the completion of Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville as priorities for his administration over the next four years.
“We’re promoting it as a package,” Faulkenberg said of the two stretches that have not been put out for bid. “Tipton County is more urgent. We don’t want to see development along the unfinished portion of the highway.”
Funding to complete the project is a concern since the Major Moves money from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road has been exhausted, Faulkenberg said.
“The Indiana Department of Transportation is looking for innovative financing to complete I-69,” he said. “We’re working to see how we can secure the funding for U.S. 31, we’re exploring all possibilities.”
Faulkenberg said how soon the work is completed will depend on the funding. He said the Indiana General Assembly is considering 17 pieces of legislation to provide funding for the state and local units of government.
Brad Bagwell, a member of the U.S. 31 Coalition representing Howard County, said last week the Kokomo Corridor is complete except for the north and south terminus of the highway that will be limited access to the east of Kokomo.
He said all the overpasses are in place and the project is scheduled to be completed in October or November.
“The governor and INDOT wants to complete the connection between Hamilton and Howard counties,” Bagwell said. “They’re focusing on the phase between Kokomo south to I-465.”
Once completed Bagwell said there will be only two railroad crossings that could slow traffic between Indianapolis and South Bend. One is the railroad crossing in Tipton County between Ind. 28 and Division Road and the second is in Lakeville.
“It will be an interstate quality road,” Bagwell said. “Gas City secured a Walmart Distribution Center because it was located along I-69, the completion of U.S. 31 will make that type of development available in Howard County.”
Once the Kokomo Corridor is completed, the existing stretch of U.S. 31 through Kokomo will become U.S. 931, he said.